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Aerial Archaeology: Drones Discover 7,000-Year-Old Cave Paintings in Spain

Aerial Archaeology: Drones Discover 7,000-Year-Old Cave Paintings in Spain

A team of historians encountered ancient cave art in the Spanish Penàguila municipality in Alicante. Through drone technology, scientists could reach previously inaccessible areas that typically require risky climbing. 

“This location is renowned for the extensive presence of prehistoric art communities,” said archaeologist and the project’s lead, Francisco Javier Molina Hernández from the University of Alicante, in the official press release.

“Our discovery revealed a novel site boasting different styles of prehistoric cave art, which we believe will significantly contribute to the field of research.”

Afterward, climbers verified the site, confirming the presence of numerous painted figures in various styles, such as symbolic human shapes and animals like goats and deer, some marked by arrows.

Photo by the Universidad de Alicante

Hernández, humorously dubbed “Indiana Drones” by the Spanish media, collaborated with fellow archaeologists Virginia Barciela and Ximo Martorell Briz on this project.

The researchers date the discovery to the Neolithic period. The paintings date from around 7,000 years ago, like other prehistoric art samples discovered in the coastal and pre-coastal area. 

Drones have revolutionized the field of archaeology by offering an efficient and cost-effective alternative to traditional data gathering methods. Their capacity to cover vast expanses of ground in a short time, coupled with the ability to capture images from multiple perspectives, has delivered data that is both precise and exhaustive.

In a notable implementation of drone technology, the National Trust for Scotland employed a fixed-wing drone in 2018 to conduct a comprehensive archaeological documentation of several secluded Scottish Islands. The drone covered an impressive distance of 250 miles over a mere five-day period. Armed with an ultra-high-resolution camera, the drone snapped a staggering 4,000 photos and recorded an enormous data set of 420 million points. This unprecedented speed of data collection was considered a milestone in archaeological surveys.

Photo by the Universidad de Alicante

Previously archaeology relied on expensive and time-consuming traditional aerial photography methods, or labor-intensive ground operations. Hiring a helicopter for aerial surveys could rack up expenses amounting to thousands of dollars per hour. In contrast, drones offer a more cost-effective solution and can fly much closer to the ground. This low-altitude maneuverability allows drones to generate more detailed imagery and create precise 3D models, facilitating a deeper understanding of archaeological sites.

This shift in approach signifies a new era in archaeology, where the adoption of drone technology enables researchers to explore, document, and study remote or inaccessible areas like never before. As this technology continues to evolve, the archaeological community can anticipate even greater capabilities, further accelerating the pace of discoveries and our understanding of human history.

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